Solar Farm

Solar farms have been a topic that’s come up a few times in recent years, so I thought I’d take a minute to shed some light on the thought from my perspective as a commissioner. As with all posts of this nature, I feel the need to remind the reader that this is only one man’s opinion. I can’t speak for the board as a governing body or for anyone else. I do however know from our own conversations that the sentiments I’m going to share here are felt by more than just myself. So take that how you will…

There is currently another solar farm being discussed, this time in Oakboro. I only know that because after receiving three separate emails from interested parties, I called to ask. Sure enough, another solar farm is indeed being discussed in the county. It’s currently awaiting a meeting with Planning and Zoning, so it hasn’t made it to our docket yet.

Let me share my perspective…

The Board of Commissioners has already approved three solar installations in Stanly County in recent years. None of these three have been built yet. In fact none of them to my knowledge have even been agreed to be built yet.

Why not? Well, you need to understand the process the energy companies make people jump through.

Duke Energy selects a few solar farm projects each phase. They call the cycle a phase. During phase 1, they selected these three farms to be built. During phase 2, they selected four others, etc. You get the idea. So far NONE of the solar projects we have approved in Stanly County have actually been picked up by Duke Energy to be included in any of their phases. So there are currently NO solar farms under construction yet. When will they be? That’s up to Duke Energy to decide.

Before a farm goes to Duke for consideration, the project has to have all it’s i’s dotted and it’s t’s crossed at just about every level. They have to have gone through zoning to address any issues with rezoning that might be needed. They have to go through the board of commissioners for our approval. There are other steps involved too, but the point is – they have to be completely signed, sealed, and delivered in a big pretty bow before the power company will even bother to discuss them. Duke Energy is big enough to make the little guys do all the leg work long before they even bother to make a decision on whether or not they will actually consider your location.

Knowing that, you might understand why we have three farms signed, sealed, and delivered to the energy company but no way to ever know of those will become solar farms or not. They might sit out there in idea-land for the next five years or Duke might snap up all three projects next month! We at the county level have no way to know.

Having said that, a fellow commissioner put this into a nice perspective for me when he said he didn’t want to go approving more farms when none have been realized yet because all of the sudden ALL of them could be snatched up and we’d be riddled with farms seemingly overnight.

I tend to agree and I do so for a variety of reasons.

Does our zoning work?

We don’t know. None of the farms that have been approved have actually been built so we’ve never completed the process to see how our zoning ordinances put in place to cover solar farms actually work. We can’t force anyone to hurry up and build them, so honestly I’d like to sit back and wait until one gets built and our zoning gets put through its paces to see if we need to tweak anything before we go approving a dozen more farms.

That’s a valid concern for county management. We’ve done all we can to create zoning regulations we think are good for Stanly County as they pertain to solar, but until one gets built – it’s all an idea on paper. The proof will be in the pudding and as of now, no one’s making any pudding. So I vote we wait and see what happens for now.

Will they devalue property?

Almost every email I’ve received from a constituent says they don’t want their property value to go down and they KNOW that will happen if a solar farm opens up near them.

That’s honestly just people making stuff up. They don’t “know” anything. There isn’t any national or state-wide research proving or disproving that theory. And even if there were, it might or might not be relevant to the solar farms. Maybe property value in Camden county have done down. They have solar farms, so it must be because of solar farms. Well, it just might be that they live in a bunch of swamp land and we just suffered a hurricane not too long ago. There might be correlation, but no one has any studies to prove causation. So its a wasted argument full of opinions, not facts.

The only peer county we can look to for an example is Cabarrus, who has solar farms now, but they haven’t had a property reevaluation since the farms went in so no one has any idea how they affected property values. When will they have their next reevaluation? I don’t know, but sometime within the next four years. So until someone actually DOES have some proof that solar farms do or don’t affect property values, please just stick to the facts that we can prove.

And keep in mind, the entire idea behind our zoning regulations for solar farms is to prevent that kind of thing from happening in the first place. That’s why we have rules for vegetative barriers, and tree blinds, and other such criteria – to try to preserve the views from neighboring properties and to preserve property values among other reasons.

Facts we CAN talk about: Costs

One of my concerns about solar farms is what would happen if the project were abandoned for some reason or it needed to be removed. There has never been a solar farm in the entire United States to be decommissioned. No one has any actual data about what that costs. No one knows who would do it.

We DO know there are no recycling centers (the last time I checked) that would even take solar farm materials. So until that process is either figured our or the contracts are iron-clad to protect both the county and the property owner, I wouldn’t personally vote to approve a solar farm project without a surety bond.

Decommissioning a solar installation in residential/commercial applications requires 100% as work and cost to clean up and remove as it does to install in the first place. It’s basically an installation done in reverse. No one has ever done a farm-sized decommissioning, but I would imagine the process to be the same. So if the farm cost thirty-million to install, I would expect a surety bond of around thirty million to cover removal as well.

There are a lot of other issues we could talk about, and if the public shows interest, I will amend this article to include some of them. However, for now, my advice is to be present at the meetings if you’re concerned, but also please try to educate yourself and those around you about the real pros and cons of solar. Personally, I’m totally for solar farms, 100%. But as a commissioner, it’s my job to be sure I’m voting for an idea that both serves the property owner in question, and protects both them and the county from an unjust power company if things go wrong.

Don’t just believe it because you read it on the internet…. I’ve already had to sit through one meeting where someone actually expressed their concern about the “radiation flowing through the pipes from the farm” because he genuinely believed that solar panels capture “radiation” from the sun and then transport it somewhere like a green goo I guess… to be fed into some kind of reactor that created electricity from it…

Solar energy is an amazing thing and I’d very much like to see more of it come to Stanly County, but only if our taxpayers and the landowners are as protected as we can make them.

Thoughts, comments? Feel free to post below!

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